Swan Lake


Swan Lake ballet, or rather, Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake. Music by Tchaikovsky. Traditional story reinterpreted, choreographed, and directed by Matthew Bourne. The original show was premiered at Sadler's Wells Theatre in 1995; the recording presented here was apparently shot, for the first time in high-definition, at Sadler's Wells in 2011.  Stars Richard Winsor (The Swan/Stranger), Dominic North (The Prince), Nina Goldman (The Queen), Madelaine Brennan (The Girlfriend), Steve Kirkham (The Private Secretary), and Joseph Vaughan (The Young Prince). David Lloyd-Jones conducts the New London Orchestra. Set and costume design by Lez Brotherston; lighting by Rick Fisher; screen direction by Ross MacGibbon; sound post production by Mike Hatch; executive production by Robert Noble, Fiona Morris, and Todd Austin. Unlike some Kultur titles, this disc plays in all regions. Released 2012, it has 5.1 Dolby sound. Grade: B

This is the famous "gay version" of the Swan Lake story with the male swan corps. It was very popular in DVD; this Blu-ray version is an update with current technology and new stars. Picture quality and video content is fine. The sound, while not up to audiophile standards, is good for a recent recording presented in 5.1 Dolby surround sound. Although I have rarely provided links on this website to the outside world, I make an exception here: you can find on Wikipedia a good synopsis and discussion of this work (up to about 2007). If you already have this in DVD or think you would be interested in seeing this show, I think you will be pleased by the quality of Bourne's clever libretto and the substantial production values invested in this title.

But what about those of you who are not sure? Well, for you, we dig deeper. But first, some screenshots may help.

Our first images show the Prince (Joseph Vaughan) as a child. He just had a nightmare about swans:

The Queen (Nina Goldman), is aloof and cold to her son, but she is excessively attracted to other young men:

The Prince is learning royal PR by going with the Queen to an art exhibition. His homosexuality is sternly repressed, so the living nude statute doesn't cause much reaction:

The Prince doesn't have friends. But he gets some cover by taking as Girlfriend (Madelaine Brennan) the dumbest blond you could image. Here the Royals are at a ballet in the opera house. The Girlfriend is giving her roommate a telephone report about the ballet she sees on the stage. The man behind the Girlfriend is The Private Secretary (Steve Kirkham):

But even the Girlfriend is informing on the Prince, who is truly alone:

Nights the Prince goes to brood at a lake near the palace. One night a corps of swans reveal themselves to the prince. All the members of the corps are male as is their leader, whom I'll call Alpha (Richard Winsor):


The Prince learns a truth about himself, which he will thereafter continue to conceal:

To cheer him up a bit, the Queen throws a party for the Prince. All the women invited are spectacular beauties and dancers. But there's not much life to the party until Alpha crashes it alone.  Alpha pays no attention to the Prince. Instead, he goes for the women. Here he lasciviously greets the Queen:

After that, all the women want a piece of Alpha:

Including the Girlfriend:

And the Queen:

The psychological pressure on the Prince is too great, and his behavior becomes erratic. After the crowd mocks the Prince, he looses his mind and the party ends catastrophically:

Alas, the Queen, and not the Prince, seeks solace with Alpha:

The Prince is confined to a hospital until he can be released to homecare. Now his childhood nightmare continues as the swans reappear. But this time they attack and kill Alpha, perhaps for paying too much attention to women. Now bereft of the only thing he truly loved, the Prince also dies. This is followed by an apotheosis (not shown) in the window over the bed: Alpha and the Prince, embracing, ascend:

Whew! It's hard to believe that this tale of extreme sexual and psychological excess and stress is basically a comedy! Probably that's the only way to get folks to watch this thing so freighted as it is with problems. If you got this far, maybe you already know if this title is for you. But I promised to dig further for those in doubt.

First, let's tackle homosexuality. They say God invests all of us with male and female characteristics dished out on bell curves. This process causes most of us to be attracted to members of the opposite sex. But for every bell curve, there are folks on the edge who are different from the rest. This in turn leads to a percentage of the population who are homosexual. These folks face challenges that the rest of us can't imagine. And many of them also tend to be over-achievers who produced astonishing benefits for mankind (especially in the arts) out of proportion to their numbers. A good example of these benefits would be, well, the ballets of Tchaikovsky. But even were this not the case, I propose the following: since God uses the bell curve to get His work done, he must love everybody on the curve the same, and so should I.

Having hopefully established an open mind at this point, I admit that I didn't like Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake very much. I admire the psychological insights build into the Bourne's conception, the cleverness of the twists and turns in the libretto, the variety in the dancing, the brilliance of the designs, and the great humor displayed, but I still don't care much about this particular prince and his coming out. Intellectually, I can tolerate and even enjoy Bourne's impressive achievement; but emotionally, this piece leaves me cold. The strongest feeling I get is that of awe from the beauty of Tchaikovsky's score. No matter what is happening on the stage, I feel gratitude for the familiar music.

When I first saw this, I decided to exclude it from coverage on this website because I view ballet as a high art. But I changed my mind and reported this on the website as a dance title.  

So now for a grade: Although I claim an open mind, I'm probably short on empathy, which I hope you have in abundance. I give this title a "B," which means it's something "you will probably like a lot if the subject interests you." I hope this helps.